Writers come here to close the door on the rest of their world, to leave the kids for a while, to leave someone else to walk the dog and clean the house for a change, to give themselves the time to write thousands and thousands of words. It’s almost always women who come here to write.
I love to feed them, trying out recipes, usually for the first time, from the many cook books I’m sent as a food journalist. And as I potter in the kitchen in the heart of the house, one of the writers will leave her room for a while to pull up a stool and chat as I chop. It’s always about the writing; we pull faith apart as I glaze the beetroot with tamarind (Mildred’s Vegan), sibling rivalry as the dhal makhani slowly thickens (Midlife Kitchen), and debate dystopia v utopia over a black bean and orange tagine (ditto).
But as the house fills with the smell of spiced orange and stories of psycho killer spy mothers and bullying bloggers, it’s the Dreamwriting that thrills me most. Before the writers retreat to their rooms, we start the day with a guided Dreamwriting session. Poised with pens on paper, fingers on laptops, they wait for my prompts to lure the fragments of ideas from who knows where. As the stories appear on the page, I lob in a screech of an owl, an unpleasant smell or a silhouette against the moon every few minutes which they weave into their tales or ignore completely. After twenty minutes, I tell them to stop. In turn, they share what happened on their page or screen, and some, like Jo Winwood, will read what they’ve written.
This is Jo’s unedited Dreamwriting as it appeared on her screen in just 20 minutes on Saturday morning. I’ve bolded the prompts.
Diana stood perfectly still, her face tilted towards the sky. Moonlight heightened the shape of the trees, dark skeletal fingers reaching towards the heavens.
The silhouette of her sister came into view as Georgia strode between the trees. Her figure seemed diminished, shortened in the night so she was not the strong woman Diana knew but a small, gnomish figure.
From a distant stand of trees, the sound of an owl calling, answered shortly afterwards by another in the distance. Diana remembered myths about owls leading brave warriors on quests and wondered what the owls were talking about.
She watched as Georgia headed towards the shed at the bottom of the wood. This was where their father had spent his weekends, tinkering around with bits and pieces, rummaging through tins of nails and boxes of screws. Diana had loved joining him, arranging his tools and watching him work. He was not the most accomplished handyman but he took great care of what he did, frowning with concentration as he glued, screwed and shaped.
Diana walked towards the shed, taking care where she placed her feet. There were roots waiting to trip up the unwary and she didn’t want to fall. Something soft and giving popped under her foot and the smell of decay rose to assault her nostrils. she winced and hurried between the trees towards the shed. there was no sign of Georgia but a strange car was parked in front of the shed.
Diana approached cautiously, peering in through the windows. The car was empty. It was old. Like the cars her parents had driven when they were children. There was rust at the wheel arches and a fine, silvery dust coated the faded paintwork. On the back seat were two cushions and a crocheted blanket exactly like the one her mother had taken into hospital on her last visit.
Diana reached out for the door handle and pulled. The door swung open with a squeak and the aroma of cigarettes and leather sent her reeling backwards.
The first flicker of daylight hit the number plate of the car and tears sprang into Diana’s eyes. This was the car her father had taught her and Georgia to drive in, the first car he had ever owned outright and it shouldn’t be here in front of the shed.
Everyone has a different way of writing; some people find Dreamwriting inspires new ideas in notes or bullets, while others find it useful to explore back stories to the characters they’re working on. Others find it gives words to pain they’ve been unable to express.
It’s dark and quiet again now in this house in the woods, and the Dreamwriters are nearly home. They’ll write in their own rooms and share their words, blocks and epiphanies in their online groups until they come back and we start the day again with their dreams. I can’t wait.